Adapting to Your Audience

Analyzing Academic Audiences

Even within the same discipline, professors might expect quite different formats for papers. For example, in sociology, one prof might ask you to write mainly about your own experiences and your reactions to your experience. Another professor might want you to do library or field research about a social problem and never refer to your own experiences or attitudes toward that problem.

In other words, college writing assignments--even if your teacher is your only reader-- require careful audience analysis.

Let’s assume for the moment that you are writing a paper for a class. Who is the reader? The most important reader is the professor, even if the prof has a grader who will look at the paper first. Sometimes the assignment will ask you to write to some reader other than the prof, and we’ll take up those audiences after we look in more detail at how you can analyze teachers as the primary audience for papers.

So what kinds of questions can you ask to help you understand your professor as your main reader?

  1. Look carefully at the assignment sheet. Does it tell you anything about your teacher’s expectations?
  2. Do you have any models of papers like this written for this prof in the past?
  3. Ask questions. What more can you learn about the professor’s expectations as a reader by asking directly?
  4. Ask yourself what you know about the professor and about the discipline.

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